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Press Conference With Senator Mitch McConnell

Press Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

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SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, good afternoon, everyone.

Let me start by saying the delay by Secretary Geithner of his next announcement until tomorrow, coupled with the decision in both the House and Senate to not vote on the remaining appropriation bills from last year, the roughly $400 billion omnibus, leads one to believe that the new administration and the Congress are trying to kind of slow-walk the cumulative effect of quite a lot of spending.

Wholly aside from the issue of whether or not the spending is appropriate, I don't think it's fair to the American taxpayer or to the American public and to all of us here in the Congress if we don't sort of put it all in context. And I think we've handed you -- if we haven't, we have with us a graft here, a chart, that just kind of sums up what I'm talking about.

As you probably all know, the cumulative debt of the United States is $10.7 trillion. The stimulus package, which is likely to clear the Congress this week, counting interest, is $1.2 trillion. We anticipate we'll get another Department of Defense supplemental, as we did in previous years. We think it'll be about $80 billion. I just mentioned the $400 billion omnibus. And to put that in context, that will be to finish up the regular appropriations process from the current year, which will mean discretionary spending in totality is over a trillion dollars for the first time in American history.

Then we've heard various accounts of a new financial markets plan. Some have said $700 billion. Senator Schumer said 4 trillion (dollars). And then we anticipate a housing plan, as well.

I think in fairness to the American taxpayer and to the Congress as well, we need to sort of put it all in context, lay the whole figure out there and just make sure that everyone understands the kinds of stunning, staggering amounts that we're talking about here. Some of it may be justified and some not. But truth in packaging, I think, warrants that all of it be laid out together so that everybody has a sense of what kind of money we're talking about here in the next -- presumably next four to six months.

With that, let me throw it open.

Q Senator McConnell?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah.

Q The current bill is now about 45 percent a tax cut. And that's not enough? You can't support that? And if not, is there any incentives, any measure that you would propose?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, the only way -- you're talking about the Senate bill?

Q Yeah.

SEN. MCCONNELL: The only way it could be characterized as 40- some-odd percent tax cuts would be adding the AMT package -- which everybody favors and, as all of you know, as a tax we're never going to collect. I mean, every year we do an AMT fix. So simply making the decision not to collect the tax that we were never going to levy anyway, I don't find terribly stimulative.

Q But as far as tax cuts -- (off mike).

SEN. MCCONNELL: No, I think we made it clear last week. What we would do -- what most Senate Republicans would do would be to come in at roughly half of the package that is likely to pass; target that first at housing, with the 4 percent mortgage proposal that we voted on last week; and make the balance of it genuine tax relief, that is relief from -- for taxpayers who are currently paying taxes, as opposed to something like the AMT fix, which was just kind of grafted onto the proposal to make it more attractive.

Yeah?

Q Did the president's appearance on TV yesterday have an impact on your thinking about the bill?

SEN. MCCONNELL: About how I might feel about this particular bill? No. (Chuckles.) No. The issue -- let me -- at the risk of being redundant, is not whether we ought to do something. I mean, this is one of those rare times when there is bipartisan agreement that the government ought to act. The question is -- is what?

And we don't find -- most of my members do not find this bill timely, temporary or targeted. And I think one of the best evidences of that, as you all already know and have written: close to 200 billion (dollars) of it is an increase in permanent spending. Entitlement spending is actually increased in this bill, thereby exacerbating the overall debt problem. And it's certainly not temporary when you increase an entitlement program and then it's worked into the base line every year, and presumably in perpetuity.

Emily?

Q Senator, this is kind of a process question -- two questions.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah.

Q When Democrat senators go to conference, or want the Senate to go to conference, as they said they have wanted to, first of all, will you procedurally allow them to do that without throwing up any roadblocks? And if you do go to conference, will you appoint Senator Specter or Senator Collins to the conference team?

SEN. MCCONNELL: (Laughs.) Well, I mean, as a general proposition, we're going to prefer going to conference over not going to conference. As to who I might appoint to a conference, I couldn't tell you right now.

Q Did Senators Specter and Collins manage to improve this bill at all in your view? And now that there is at least some Republican support, can we call it a bipartisan bill?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, as you all well know because you were here, many of you, last year, the senators that you referred to have frequently voted a little bit differently from the rest of my members. That's not different. What's different is the overall number. Forty one is less than forty nine.

I'm sure that they believe that they have improved the bill. I don't think it's improved the bill enough to garner additional Republican support in the Senate.

Q (Off mike.) Why haven't there been better results? (Off mike.)

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I mean, just because we get amendments doesn't necessarily mean we will win them. I think that the process that we're using, this year, is a good process. It's an improvement over last year. We are not guaranteed to win amendments just because we offer them. But we've offered good amendments.

We think that the Senate is going to be sort of the testing ground, for ideas, during our period here without the presidency and without a majority in the House and Senate. And we're happy to have these votes. It's an opportunity for everybody to discuss our ideas and to have votes and put people on the record.

Q What about the idea that the new president -- (off mike)? That's not always been the case, as far as when you have a very new president.

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I think, his desire to have greater Republican support was not possible, as a result of the product that the majority in the House and Senate produced. I think that's regretful. And you know, a few Republicans, out of 535 members of Congress, does not necessarily make something bipartisan.

Having said that, hopefully on other occasions, on other issues, we'll have what I would consider genuine bipartisanship, which is to have something more than 3 of 41 Republicans supporting a measure.

Yeah.

Q A key element of Secretary Geithner's housing plan essentially would be this idea of a bad bank. (Off mike.) What do you think of that proposal?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Well, I want to see it first. We thought we were going to get it today. And as I indicated in the opening statement, they decided, I guess, that it was too much to swallow, to be working a $1.2-trillion stimulus package today and announcing that at the same time.

So I don't know exactly what's going to be in it. We'll take a look at it when he makes it public.

Yeah?

Q Senator McConnell, do you think it was naive to expect bipartisanship? I mean, you are moving forward -- as you see the stimulus debate, how it's played out in front of you, ideologically, it's no different than it's ever been. I mean, the Republicans have philosophically been different about fiscal issues, economic issues. Is that -- how is -- how are Republicans and Democrats ever going to work together as, you know, President Obama has called for? Is that just a naive goal?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I'm reading a book right now about the 1800 election, which was a rather spirited contest, for you history junkies, between Aaron Burr, President John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It ended up in the House of Representatives, where -- which was meeting where my office is right now. And they had 36 ballots. The rhetoric in that election is so much tougher than anything we've had in recent years that I'm, you know, kind of stunned when we seem to be kind of offended by a good ideological discussion.

I mean, there are going to be some times when I think, you know, we can do something on a bipartisan basis. I'll give you an example of something I said to the president, and I believe he would like to do it as well. The only way we'll ever be able to do entitlement reform is on a bipartisan basis, no matter what the numbers are in the House and Senate, no matter what the Democrats could do on their own if they chose to. And I've said to him privately and I've said publicly and will say again today that -- that's an area that I'm open to working with him.

This package, had it been developed in genuine consultation, could have had a different result. But at the end of the day, it was -- the administration decided -- let the package be developed in Congress by the majority, and old habits die hard. You know, there was no meaningful consultation in the early part of the process. So if you don't have that on the takeoff, you don't end up having it on the landing.

Yeah?

Q Senator, do you -- Senator Reid said he -- it was possible to get this done by Friday, and he's looking forward to that. Do you see that as realistic?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Yeah, I think it's possible. I think it depends on how quickly the conference functions and resolves the differences among the majority in the House and the majority in the Senate.

Q Senator, do you see any circumstances under which more Republicans might vote for the finished product? If not, is there some possibility of a backlash against Republicans for saying no to a stimulus package during -- (off mike)?

SEN. MCCONNELL: I think the overwhelming majority of Republicans are very comfortable with where we are on this particular issue. I think that this is a poorly crafted bill. I think you could get the job done for about half of that, which would still be a very robust stimulus package by any historical standard. And, no, I think there's a pretty high comfort level among members in the Senate -- Republican members in the Senate and in the House about where we are on this particular measure.

Q Senator McConnell, do you think the Republican's message of fiscal discipline -- you say this is big part of what you learned out of the '08 elections and possibly even '06. Did Senator Specter take a politically perilous position? There are some that are actually calling for a Republican primary opponent like Pat Toomey to run against him.

SEN. MCCONNELL: What about Senator Grassley?

Q Senator Specter. Do you think he took a politically perilous position?

SEN. MCCONNELL: Oh, Senator Specter is a member in good standing of our conference. And I'm confident he's going to be reelected, with our support.

Q Senator, I'm hearing reports that the calls coming into the offices are running hundred to one against passage of this bill. Could you comment on that? For instance, in your office, what --

SEN. MCCONNELL: I haven't got the count on my office. I've heard that that's been the case, yeah. I think people do have some sticker shock. Everybody knows the economy's in serious trouble and everybody expects the government to act.

This particular package, because of the amount, because of the level of spending on projects and the spend-out rate, you know, with more money in year three and four, just doesn't add up to timely, temporary and targeted, which is what we all thought this was going to be about. And I think the congressional Democrats just simply couldn't break old habits. And this was viewed as an opportunity to do a lot of things on the wish list and charge it to our grandchildren and do it now.

And so I think that's the core reason why there are very few Republicans supporting this.

Okay, thanks.

Q Thank you.


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